Bill would increase penalties for rioters who wear masks

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The new law will make it a criminal offence to wear a mask or conceal your identity during a riot. (Michael Probst/Associated Press)

The letters “ACLU” just might stand for “Antifa’s Civil Liberties Union.”

After an Oregon lawmaker made a pitch this week for a bill that would double the penalties for those convicted of rioting if they are wearing a mask during the violence, the Oregon office of the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the proposal as a threat to free speech.

“We’re just worried about making sure we keep that balance between expression of our rights and public safety,” said ACLU lobbyist Courtney Helstein, according to KLCC.

Rep. Sherrie Sprenger, R-Scio, told the Oregon House Judiciary Committee that House Bill 4126 is meant to discourage people from covering up their faces to avoid arrest. “The measure is not intended to prevent protest or to keep citizens from exercising their First Amendment rights,” she said.

Sprenger pointed to news reports of thugs in Portland associated with the violent “anti-facism” group Antifa who engaged in violent behavior while wearing masks. The current penalty “doesn’t seem to be much of a deterrant,” she said.

The ACLU said, “Police can arbitrarily and without notice to the crowd classify a protest as a ‘riot’ based on isolated actions of a few protesters. Under this proposed law, peaceful protesters at such an event risk being charged with a serious felony based on the fact that they are wearing a mask — even a bandanna designed to protect against tear gas or a mask that parodies a public figure.”

An attorney for the Oregon Department of Justice testified that the agency believes the measure would comply with the Oregon Constitution, since the only people who would be punished for wearing a mask would be those who were convicted of the crime of rioting.

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